James' story

James Mercado stands with two of his therapists.

Loving boyfriend and doting father, James “Jimmy/Jimbo/Junior” Mercado, found himself in the fight of his life following a collision with another vehicle while driving. The 39-year-old suffered extensive injuries, including a heart attack that may have led to the accident. Jimmy’s family prayed as he battled through multiple rounds of CPR and underwent various medical interventions. His journey, filled with ups and downs, eventually earned him the new titles of “fighter” and “miracle” from his family, friends and teammates on his recreational softball team.

Jimmy defied the odds during the critical first 48 hours, showing daily signs of progress. However, a major setback came when he contracted COVID while recovering in the hospital. The situation seemed dire but Jimmy proved resilient by overcoming the illness without the need for mechanical ventilation.

After 82 days, Jimmy was deemed ready for the next phase of his recovery: inpatient rehabilitation. His family chose Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital despite being nearly an hour from their home in York. The choice was based in their belief that the hospital’s expertise and care were the best fit for his needs. Jimmy’s rehabilitation journey began, and he soon showed remarkable improvements thanks to the dedication of his care team.

Upon admission, Jimmy’s physiatrist and care team first focused on regulating his days and nights, establishing a consistent sleep/wake schedule to set him up for success in therapy. As he initially required total assistance from two to three people for all mobility, physical therapy focused on balance training, stair training, transfer training and endurance training. Therapists also worked with Jimmy on overcoming visual and cognitive challenges such as spatial awareness through use of the BITS and Virtualis, which use touchscreen technology and virtual reality to help reconnect a patient’s sensory and motor functions.

In occupational therapy, therapists focused on cognitive tasks, balance, mobility and safety with Jimmy, slowly helping him regain independence in everyday activities such as feeding himself and brushing his teeth. Many brain-injured patients experience a change in the mental state. Restless and agitated initially, Jimmy found a soothing outlet in expressing his artistic talent by writing letters and creating drawings.

In his initial assessment by speech therapy, Jimmy spoke in single words and short phrases, but his speech was very difficult to understand. He also had a feeding tube due to his inability to swallow food and drink safely. Speech therapy set to work with language tasks and swallowing exercises in conjunction with Vital Stim, electrical stimulation applied to the outside of the throat to stimulate the swallowing muscles. The therapy team also conducted training with Jimmy’s family to educate them in supporting a brain- injured individual and help them gain confidence in supporting his needs once he returned home. Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital’s Care Partner program taught them to provide Jimmy with hands-on assistance for transfers, activities of daily living and walking.

Gradually, Jimmy progressed from requiring multiple caregivers for assistance to performing many tasks independently, including eating regular foods and advancing his cognitive abilities. Jimmy’s girlfriend Lauren tearfully recalled the day Jimmy once again recognized her, and shared, “The moral of the story is, don’t give up. Never give up on someone.” Throughout the recovery journey, Jimmy’s mother, Carla, and Lauren alternated their visitation nights so one was with Jimmy while the other cared for Jimmy’s teen-aged children at home. In addition to his family, Jimmy’s friends and softball teammates rallied behind him, organizing a tournament in his honor. The “Jimbo Strong” softball tournament not only raised funds for the family but also served as a source of inspiration for Jimmy during recovery.

After four months of hard work, Jimmy was finally coming home. From a state of total dependence, he now walks with the support of his family, tackles stairs and dresses himself. The transformation was nothing short of remarkable. With gratitude to his therapy team and nursing staff who played a crucial role in his recovery, Jimmy is excited to embrace life again. He aspires to participate in the next #JimboStrong softball tournament, a testament to his continuing determination to achieve his goals.